Ellie Austin: Following in the footsteps of a beach legend

22nd June 2020

Ellie Austin: Following in the footsteps of a beach legend

In 2019, rising beach volleyball star Ellie Austin achieved a historic bronze medal for England with partner Anaya Evans. The 180cm-tall split blocker, of Croyde, is the daughter of beach volleyball stalwart Denise Austin and is currently a student athlete at Florida Atlantic University in the USA. Ellie, 18, has already achieved so much in a short space of time and has a bright future ahead of her.

How did you get into beach volleyball?

From before I can remember my whole life has been about volleyball. It began by watching my mum play beach volleyball and has led to me to follow her onto the podium. Having a role model like that surrounding me, it is not difficult to see why I followed in her footsteps – and it has always been my dream to be as great as her.

I have been fortunate to grow up watching the game and be coached at every stage by some incredible coaches. Amanda “Mo” Glover, who competed at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, is my volleyball mum and my biggest mentor. Coaches for the England junior women’s indoor and beach teams have all played a massive part in developing my technical and tactical knowledge of the game. Coaches from my club, the Academy of Beach Sports, such as Matt Rhymer, James Annells, Millie Constable, Immy Dawes, Tim Newton, Tim Latcham and Sam Dunbavin have all given me so much too, as well as club players such as Anaya and Haydn Lawson.

I have had many coaches alongside my mother who have helped to mould me into the player I am now.

Can you recall your England debut?

My first appearance for England was in 2016 against the USA in the U21 World Championships, which were held in Lucerne, Switzerland. At the time I was 15 years old – I think I was the second youngest player at the competition – and I remember Anaya and I had one of the hardest qualifying draws and that I was more scared than I ever had been in my life. I could barely breathe and struggled throughout that game.

I remember walking off court after we lost 21-16, 21-16 and promising myself I would never let myself feel like that again. I like to think that every bad experience can make you stronger.

The team from the USA were good, but I realised I gave them too much credit. Now I have the ‘why not me?’ approach to winning. Since then I have spent a spring training in Hermosa Beach, California, and was fortunate to play against American beach players Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes. Once you can spar with players at that level you feel able to compete with anyone on any given day.

Thinking about your playing style, what do you bring to the game?

My playing style comes from all the different experiences I have been in. Anaya and I have studied and adapted a smart and creative playing style that works for us.

…and what do you look for in the people you play with?

When you’re looking for the perfect partner, I find you have to be willing to go through every emotion with them. It must be someone you are ready to fight with and someone you are prepared to work harder than you ever have done before with. 

What has been your proudest moment representing England as a beach volleyball athlete?

My proudest moment representing England would be when I walked onto the podium at my first ever FIVB World Tour on Ios Island, Greece. Anaya and I battled through so many games and overcome every challenge to make our way out of the qualification stages and onto that podium. Seeing the reaction of my family and friends was overwhelming – I couldn’t have been happier.

We were reserves and had watched our names slowly creep up the list. We didn’t know what to expect as it was our first event, but we beat three teams in the single elimination qualifiers to make the main draw. Then we won our pool and knock out games as well to get through to the semi-final. We hadn’t dropped a set at that point, and the opposition were all ranked much higher than us in the world. We lost to the eventual winners from Greece.

We just could not stop smiling afterwards. We spent some time with friends and family who were there supporting us and we also went to a players party – something we never normally do as we are both quite disciplined when we are competing internationally, but this was a special occasion. It was also special to know that the last time Great Britain or England took a medal at an FIVB senior event was when my mum won in 1999. We had made history 20 years later.

What are you most likely to be doing if you are not playing volleyball?

If I’m not playing volleyball, chances are I’m studying, sleeping or eating. Life as a student athlete is challenging and demanding but it teaches you how to get the most out of every single day.

An average day starts with study at 8am or 9am so, depending how tired I am, I grab breakfast early or after the first lesson. I usually have two lessons in the morning and then I have lunch on the go as I have practise from midday to around 4pm. We eat a lot but it’s often on the go as there is always something else to get to.

After that we have study hall, which is where you do your homework, then sometimes I have an early evening lesson or tutoring to help support my classes. That’s usually followed by some more homework until about 9pm or 10pm.

We have gym three times a week, which is organised around our study schedule, and Fridays and sometimes Thursdays are often travel days, following by two days of competitions.

I didn’t know what being busy felt like until I became a student athlete!

How do you keep yourself motivated?

At some points, the lows are painful and heartbreaking, but they motivate me to get better and to not feel like I have underachieved. What motivates me is walking off court feeling like I gave everything I could possible give to play the best game of volleyball I have ever played.

Do you have a volleyball role model?

Besides my mother, Team USA's Misty May, who I remember watching play at London 2012, was the player I dreamed of being like. Being able to see her walk onto court in the gold medal match like she owned the court was something special.

What are your sporting ambitions for the future?

My big sporting ambition is to walk back onto the podium at the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and medal on home soil.

Anaya and I want to compete at the highest level we can achieve. Due to the coronavirus, everything is up in the air at the moment. For now, we will compete in the States on tours because there are lots of domestic events that are just starting back up again. We hope to compete together later in the summer.

We have plans to compete and train this winter but, like many people, we are just waiting to see what happens with the pandemic.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to younger players?

Keep working harder than everyone around you. Also, look above your competition and, most importantly, enjoy every second of it.

Ellie Austin: Following in the footsteps of a beach legend